According to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), a work breakdown structure (WBS) is “a hierarchical decomposition of the total scope of work to be carried out by the project team to accomplish the project objectives and create the required deliverables." In the tree structure of a WBS, project deliverables and activities are broken down into manageable parts, making it easier to estimate required resources and costs, create a realistic schedule, and control each stage of a project. Work breakdown structure is especially useful for bigger projects that involve many elements.
To save you time and facilitate the process of creating a work breakdown structure, we’ve compiled several templates that are free to download. With the preformatted structure of a template, you can streamline the decomposition process and ensure that all necessary details are included. A template provides a foundation to work from that can easily be modified to suit the needs of your project.
What Goes Into a Work Breakdown Structure
A WBS breaks down data, services, a product, or all three depending on the type and scope of a project. A WBS can be oriented around deliverables, or break down project phases and milestones for a process-centered approach. The process of subdividing a project into smaller components is called “decomposition.” The decomposition can be completed by an entire project team as a group effort to ensure a comprehensive WBS. This will give all team members a broad understanding of the project, improving communication, efficiency, and accountability.
Once the deliverables or milestones have been identified, the team can list the sequence of activities needed to complete each deliverable, thus decomposing the project into workable steps. The hierarchy of steps breaks the project into levels, with the lowest level being the “work package,” which is the activity or tasks required to produce a deliverable or complete a milestone. Having the preformatted structure of a template can help streamline the decomposition process and ensure that all necessary details are included.
The number of levels required for a WBS will depend on the characteristics of a project, but the levels must be sufficient to meet a project manager’s needs for accurate estimating and effective project monitoring. In a similar vein, the level of detail will vary, but one option is to follow the 8/80 rule, which means that the lowest level of work should require between eight and 80 hours. Based on this rule, if a work package takes more than 80 hours, it needs to be decomposed further.
A work breakdown structure can be formatted in various ways, including an outline that is basically a numbered list, a hierarchical table, and a tree diagram. Regardless of format, a WBS will typically include outline numbering to represent the sequential order of each level and activity. To complement the WBS, a related dictionary may be created, which contains detailed information about each element of the project, including definitions of each work package, effort level and duration of tasks, resources, and more. A WBS dictionary is generally presented in a table or spreadsheet format and serves as a detailed reference and planning tool.
Work Breakdown Structure Templates for Excel
WBS Outline and Diagram Template
This work breakdown structure template provides both outline and tree structure views in a spreadsheet format. You can add as many levels as needed to cover the breakdown of your project. The outline view offers simplicity and quick organization, while the diagram view provides a visual representation of how each project level relates to the next. You can easily add more sheets to this WBS Excel template to include additional project planning or data.
Work Breakdown Structure Dictionary Template
Having a detailed WBS dictionary can help a project manager create an effective project schedule. This dictionary template includes WBS numbering, task names and descriptions, the level of effort for each task, scheduling dates, and more. You can add, remove, or edit columns and rows on this spreadsheet template to create a comprehensive WBS dictionary for your project.
Work Breakdown Structure Diagram Template
The work breakdown structure diagram template uses boxes and rows to create an easy-to-read layout. Levels are clearly separated, and tasks are organized hierarchically. The graphic layout allows you to get a project overview at a glance, while the structure provides clarity on the breakdown of tasks. The advantage of this diagram view is that you can see the overall scope of work without getting lost in details. Combine this with a WBS dictionary for a mix of visual structure and detailed project information.
WBS Template with Gantt Chart
Pairing a work breakdown structure with a Gantt chart provides information on tasks and subtasks along with a visual view of project management. This is sort of like combining a WBS outline, dictionary, and project schedule in a single template. You can organize tasks using WBS outline numbering, include whatever details are pertinent to your project - such as duration, completion status, deadlines, and assigned owners - and use the Gantt chart to visually track progress and outcomes.
Work Breakdown Structure Templates for Word
WBS Tree Diagram Template
This work breakdown structure template provides a simple tree structure in a Word document. The center box at the top of the tree will hold your project name, and the tiers below the box will break deliverables down into distinct work packages. While this is a diagram view rather than an outline, you can choose to include WBS numbering in each box to further delineate elements and project levels. This template can also be useful for matching your WBS dictionary to the diagram.
WBS Levels Template
For a slightly different layout from the tree template offered above, this WBS diagram clearly separates all of the levels and labels them. This provides both vertical and horizontal organization of the hierarchical tree structure. As with the other diagram templates offered here, the visual nature of this work breakdown structure in Word makes it easy to read and understand the relationships between the different levels, tasks, and objectives.
Improve Project Management Efforts with Smartsheet
A work breakdown structure template is helpful to get started working on any project -- big or small, simple or complex. Once you've completed your WBS, you need a collaborative, real-time tool to help manage project details from start to finish.
One such tool is Smartsheet, a work management and automation platform that enables enterprises and teams to get from idea to impact - fast. Top project management leaders rely on Smartsheet to help align the right people, resources, and schedules to get work done.
Use Smartsheet to create consistent project elements, increase speed, and improve collaboration with scalable options that fit individual work preferences. Hold yourself and your team accountable, improve visibility into team priorities, and ensure nothing slips through the cracks.
Discover how Smartsheet can help maximize your project management efforts, today.
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